Watching a magnetic actress in just about anything can be a compelling experience. At least, it can be up until a certain point. Then, a satisfying movie surrounding her needs to appear. Unfortunately, while Vanessa Kirby is a great actress, she’s barely surrounded by anything in Italian Studies. Playing at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, it’s a showcase for Kirby, as well as the score from Nicholas Britell, but not too much else. Consider this one of the fest’s more disappointing titles, considering its ample potential.
Italian Studies is the sort of pretentious independent work that litters film festivals. Tribeca is no exception, as you’re seeing here. What’s intended to be low-key and hypnotic instead becomes a slog to sit through. Individual moments hint at something much better, but they never get to fully see the light. Simply put, this one is a tough sit, even at under 80 minutes long.
We meet a young woman (Kirby) in the midst of a rather innocuous conversation. Then, it becomes clear that something is amiss. The woman has temporary amnesia and doesn’t remember who she is. Wandering around New York City, she thinks back about prior conversations in her recent past, some she might even be imagining. At the same time, she’s running into a wide range of folks in the city, potentially jogging her memory.
As she meanders about, we learn that her name is Alina Reynolds and she’s a published author. The more we learn, the more we wonder just how and why this fog arrived in her mind. Unfortunately, anyone hoping for an answer, or really too much of anything satisfying, will be let down.
Vanessa Kirby is the best part of this flick. For a while, just observing her is compelling indie cinema. The introduction to the people she meets are far less successful. Even with actors like Maya Hawke and Fred Hechinger, it feels like a film where the writers and director don’t know where to go next. The more Kirby gets to do, the better. She easily proves that Pieces of a Woman and The World to Come are just the tips of the iceberg.
Filmmaker Adam Leon just didn’t seem to have an idea here. Apparently, Leon just wanted to work with Kirby, and vice-versa, so an idea formed late in the game. It shows. While Kirby is up for it, aside from choosing Nicholas Britell to compose the score, none of Leon’s moves pay off. Britell adds a haunting element to things, which keeps Italian Studies from complete and utter pretentiousness. His sounds, paired with Kirby’s acting, are what you hold on to.
Italian Studies isn’t bad, it just doesn’t leave you with much to say about it. Part of why it’s such a letdown at Tribeca is the potential for Vanessa Kirby to make this one an awards contender. That clearly wasn’t to be, even if she’s good. If you’re curious, it’s a short film. Unfortunately, outside of Britell and Kirby’s work, it’s also likely to be one of the fest’s most forgettable movies.